Govt. neither opposed nor protested Indian Nuclear Power Plant - AEA

The government yesterday expressed regret that the recent events at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva where India voted in favour of a resolution against Sri Lanka was being linked to the issue of the nuclear power plant in South India.

Dr. R.L. Wijayawardana, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Authority in a statement said: "It is unfortunate that remote nuclear accidents are brought up by the media, linking to UNHRC vote and using radiation safety as currency of conversation whipping up fear and insecurity."

Full text of the statement follows: "Times of India on 10th April stated that Sri Lanka’s energy minister Patali Champika Ranawaka has said they were threatened by the Koodankulam nuclear plant, in case of a Fukushima-like disaster in retaliation for India’s vote against Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

TOI further said Champika Ranawaka, Lanka energy minister, repeatedly told journalists in Colombo that Sri Lanka would refer the matter to the IAEA at a meeting in September. It is unfortunate that such faulty information have been released by TOI in order to bring tension between the two countries. Sri Lanka has not brought up the issue of the safety of Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant against India’s voting at the 19th session of the UNHRC.Both Sri Lanka and India are members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

IAEA is committed for using nuclear technology for the benefit of the society. Sri Lanka fully understands the need of utilizing nuclear energy for electricity generation. India has every right to use nuclear technology in meeting the requirements of electrical energy. Sri Lankan Government has neither opposed nor registered their protest for any Nuclear Power Plant on Indian soil.

It is their sovereign right. Sri Lanka gathered from media reports that there had been protests by sections of Indian public in Koodankulam.

Sri Lanka Atomic Energy Authority has a mandate to protect people and the environment of Sri Lanka from unwanted effects of ionizing radiation. It is the responsibility of the Government of Sri Lanka through the Sri Lanka Atomic Energy Authority to plan a Radiological Emergency Preparedness Programme. Such a programme was drafted with the help of the Disaster Management Centre. IAEA was approached by AEA to strengthen the capacity for the Radiological Emergency Preparedness Programme. IAEA has offered to establish Early Warning Detector System and the equipment would be delivered according to the IAEA Department of Technical Cooperation.

There had been cordial discussions with the Indian delegation in 2010 when the Minister headed the Sri Lanka delegation to the IAEA General Conference. In fact Minister Ranawaka visited the Koodankulam NPP with Chairman of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission, Therefore, the statement made to give the impression that Sri Lanka is protesting to Koodankulam NPP is baseless and malicious.

NPPs are located at sites after careful evaluation and after going through a rigorous licensing process. It is not uncommon to locate NPPs near borders of countries or near to state boundaries within countries. Recent Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011 and Chernobyl in 1986 demonstrated how IAEA and Member states managed in the aftermath of nuclear accident.

It is well known that there are conventions of the IAEA for international cooperation in dealing with nuclear accidents. There are three conventions applicable. (1) Convention of Nuclear Safety (2) Convention on Assistance in case of Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency (3) Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident.

Article 7 of the Convention of Nuclear Safety required that all countries having nuclear power plants to have comprehensive regulatory system for the safety of the power plants. Article 16 requests that all countries to take all appropriate steps to prepare emergency plans for mitigation of the consequences of an accident. Article 20 of the convention refers that all countries shall hold meetings. These meetings are important to discuss issues pertaining to other countries which are in close proximity to Nuclear Power Countries. As far as we know Sri Lanka is not participating in these meetings.

According to the article 1 of the Convention on Assistance in case of Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency the countries shall cooperate between themselves and with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in accordance with the provisions of this Convention to facilitate prompt assistance in the event of a nuclear accident or radiological emergency to minimize its consequences and to protect life, property and the environment from the effects of radioactive releases. To facilitate such cooperation countries may agree on bilateral or multilateral arrangements or, where appropriate, a combination of these, for preventing or minimizing injury and damage which may result in the event of a nuclear accident or radiological emergency. According to the article 2 of the this convention if a country needs assistance in the event of a nuclear accident or radiological emergency, whether or not such accident or emergency originates within its territory, jurisdiction or control, it may call for such assistance from any other country, directly or through the IAEA, and from the IAEA, or where appropriate, from other international intergovernmental organizations.All these conventions are aimed at providing safety to their own population of the country in which nuclear power plant is to be built or operated and to protect the people in the nearby countries close to the nuclear power plant.

As there are power plants in India close to our country, the only possible thing we can do is to make a bilateral agreement with India under the provisions of these conventions to exchange of information of status of their power plants and emergency plans and to obtain assistance in case of a nuclear accident in India.

IAEA proposed, nearly three years ago to the officials of Sri Lanka Atomic Energy Authority to explore the possibility of entering into an agreement with India for radiological emergency preparedness planning and management of radiological emergencies. Sri Lanka Atomic Energy Authority followed-up with the Ministry of External Affairs of the Government of Sri Lanka. The Minister of Power and Energy when the subject of Atomic Energy was brought under his Ministry in April 2010 took a special interest in strengthening the capabilities of Sri Lanka Atomic Energy Authority for managing radiological accidents and its consequences. AEA had proposed a draft agreement about two years ago to the External Affairs authorities in Colombo for discussion with Indian authorities. AEA was not informed regarding any response from Indian side and has not lost confidence in working out a bi-lateral agreement with India for assistance in dealing with radiological consequences considering the importance of the issue from a scientific and technical standpoint.

It is customary for delegations of both India and Sri Lanka to meet on the sidelines of the IAEA General Conference every year in a cordial atmosphere respecting the age old relationships of the two countries. Sri Lanka has not lost confidence in getting bi-lateral cooperation in resolving issues of nuclear accidents; nuclear accidents are very remote, taking into consideration the safety features of present day nuclear reactors that undergo a through rigorous licensing procedure.

It is unfortunate that remote nuclear accidents are brought up by the media, linking to UNHRC vote and using radiation safety as currency of conversation whipping up fear and insecurity."

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